The green room was large and disgustingly cheerful. Posters for the New Adventures of Galaxy Quest
covered the walls, interspersed with stills from the classic series, and some over-eager con employee had
thrown in a few action figures and toys along with the sodas and bagels. The odd burned-out bulb and a thick pall
of cigarette smoke would have improved the place considerably.
"Come on, Alexander, do you have some kind of problem with success? It's been an exciting year since they renewed the show, right? Our old fans love us, we're already getting new ones, our salaries are bigger than ever—"
"Not adjusted for inflation," Tommy said, looking up from his cell phone.
"Close enough." Jason was slipping into Commander Taggart mode again, determined to rally the troops. "My point is, we've got plenty to celebrate." Guy Fleegman, in the corner with his hands full of plastic freebies, gave a little cheer.
"Whee," Alexander said. As a classically trained actor, the amount of dry sarcasm he was able to pack into a single syllable was potent and impressive. A firm, Taggart-style grip descended on his shoulder.
"Now, you know I don't want to call you a bitter old queen..."
"Thank you, Jason."
"But it seems to me that you're just not appreciating how lucky we are. Not to sound too sentimental, but maybe you should consider opening your heart a little. To wonder, and possibility, and maybe love. I mean, look what it's done for me." He stopped to make eyes at Gwen, who returned the repulsively sappy expression.
Alex stood, not shaking off Jason's hand. "I opened my heart, once," he said. His voice was thick. "To wonder, and... possibility." Jason was surprised. Gwen leaned forward. Guy stopped playing with the action figures. "He died."
Gwen gasped audibly.
Alexander gazed into the distance. "Love?" His lip curled, with what could have been a trace of bitter amusement, and he exited the room.
There was a hushed silence.
Jason shook his head. "How. How does he do that?" He checked with Gwen. "I had a great, rousing closer to that speech, and he just pulled the rug on me. Is it a British thing?"
"Jason," Gwen said, the way she did when he was being a jerk.
Jason caught the toss. Too late, he looked at the door. "Wait, did we know Alex had a boyfriend who—? Did we even know he was seeing somebody?" He trailed off in concern.
Gwen, lips pressed together, looking worried, shook her head. "He hasn't been the same since—That Convention," she said. Meaning, Galaxy Quest Convention #18. They'd agreed that casual public references to "the time the aliens came and got us" were a bad idea. "All of us were happy at first, but then he just... faded."
"But he was pretty depressed before the, That, too," Jason argued. "We used to have to drag him onstage, remember?"
Tommy put his cell phone down. "If you care so much about whether he's being all bitchy and depressed about success or all bitchy and depressed about failure, you could go ask him," he suggested.
Jason and Gwen looked guilty. "He's closer to you, Jason," Gwen said, hoping it was true.
"Tommy, he might listen to you," Jason lied.
"You think I want to watch him cry in his booze? Been there, done that. Moping in his trailer at night quoting Shakespeare with half his forehead on like some kind of Phantom of the Opera." Tommy shivered hugely. Guy mimed a nervous, silent 'pass.'
Jason and Gwen looked at each other. "We'll ask Fred," Jason said, and they relaxed. "He won't be mad we did the first New Adventures con without him, right?"
She shrugged and smiled. "He couldn't get back in time. From... you know." She indicated the ceiling. "I'm sure he understands."
"He still with 'the in-laws'?" Guy said cheerfully, picking up a plastic Mank'nar beast.
"They gotta straighten out that illegal immigration thing," Tommy observed. "Laliari was okay with the non-speaking role, but for kids they'll need some paperwork. I was home-schooled and even a child actor has to have a birth certificate."
There was the unmistakable beep of a vox. A real, working vox. Of which there was only one on Earth, the kid Brandon having been star-struck enough to trade his back for some signed memorabilia and a studio tour. Everyone turned to look at Jason.
"You brought that with you? Here?"
"For luck," Jason argued, waving around at the posters, shiny and hopeful. He picked up the communicator device and opened it with a practiced flip. "Speak of the squids," he said. "Mathesar? Is that you?"
"Commander Taggart," a happy voice hummed.
"Nesmith, it's, Nesmith, call me Jason," Jason reminded him, determined not to get in trouble again. The others were crowding around him to listen. "I thought Fred wasn't coming back until next month. You throwing him out? Is he starting bar fights again?"
"Tech Sergeant Chen is still most welcome. In fact, we were hoping that you and your crew could join us as well. You see, weeee... need your help." There was a chorus of soft agreement in the background.
"Now, look, we went over this..."
Gwen leaned in next to him. "What's wrong, Mathesar?" Her voice was so lovely—full of compassion. Jason took a moment to enjoy the smell of her hair.
"We recently encountered a most unexpected threat. Our ancient enemies, the Tothians, seem to have reappeared. We believed their menace to be extinct. Luckily we were attacked by only a single small scout ship and were able to dispatch it, but this could be a calamity of the direst proportions."
"But you stopped them, right? Come on, you've got amazing technology, and a damn good leader, you can handle this."
"These are the most dangerous enemies my people ever faced. Their tactics are supremely brutal and..."
Jason unfortunately lost focus for a minute, as he spotted the clock on the wall. They were due onstage soon, someone would be through that door any minute.
"My crew is terrified, Commander Tag—Jason Nesmith. We must discover where the Tothian ship came from. Please, lend us the inspiration of your command methods, if only for a short time. Otherwise there will be... hmm, panic."
Jason looked around: Gwen, Tommy, Guy, all looking uncertain. "Fred's up there," he reminded them. He turned back to the vox. "Just a consult, right? This wouldn't be an actual war?"
"We have seeen no sign of other ships," Mathesar fluted.
There was a knock. "All right, but listen, don't pick us up yet, okay? We've got a show to do. We'll be free later tonight, I'll let you know."
"Thank you, Commander. Thank you. Thank you." Various liquid barking noises filled the room as Jason closed the vox and muffled it under his arm.
"Whale song," he told the confused-looking PA. "Helps us relax. We're on now?" He spotted Alexander lurking in the hall. "There you are! Have I got a surprise for you, buddy!"
It was hard for Alex to scowl properly through his prosthetics, but he gave it a try.
Being shot through open space in a gel pod gets less disorienting with practice. But it's still pretty damned disorienting.
Jason was the first one to speak. "Mathesar! Looking good!" They hugged, Jason oofing as the solid Thermian leader squeezed him. He dropped back on his feet. "I see you rebuilt the command deck."
"Of course. We labored night and day. Lieutenant Gwen DeMarco!" The round of greetings continued. "Tommy Laredo!" The Thermians still weren't clear on the situation.
Alexander stood quietly. He let himself be hugged, returning it perfunctorily with a one-cornered smile. He had agreed to come back here. Surely facing the mundane unreality of it all, the comical aliens, the loud noises and bright lights, would give him perspective.
He was tired; he was aging. He'd spent over fifteen years regretting the careless agreement to join the cast of Galaxy Quest for a little steady work, to find too late that he would never be taken seriously again. His career, his life, he was a joke. He'd even been ridiculed on Saturday Night Live. He'd pulled away from his friends, unless you counted Gwen and Jason, and as for lovers, remaining permanently discreet for the sake of this pitiful remnant of a career tended to put a damper on things. It had been so long since he had even cared. Since he had felt any kind of a connection.
And then he had met Quellek, one more deluded young man who looked up to him for the wrong reasons. One heroic young man, who deserved to have someone to look up to. And who had died, literally, in Alexander's arms.
Alex sighed, watching the Thermians mill around, with their stiff backs and odd walks. So he had let a passing fancy build up in his memory. It wasn't as if he'd said a word to the boy—Quellek had said he looked on Dr. Lazarus as a father, that wasn't very promising. Alexander wouldn't have been the first to make a fool of himself over a younger man. Or a younger... whatever was under there. But there was no denying that Quellek had touched his heart, briefly, and that glimpse of feeling had thrown into relief the dull pointlessness of everything else.
"After many generations of war almost all Thermians were forced to go into hiding, and survived only because the Tothians activated a doomsday device that destroyed their own people instead of us," Mathesar was explaining. "We were determined to solve our problems without the aid of you and your crew, Commander, but my people today are not prepared to respond to that level of aggression. The Tothians leaders are less wily than Sarris, but they are more, hmmmmmmmm," Mathesar tilted his head and smiled forlornly. "Badass?"
Fred nodded encouragingly.
"He's been teaching you slang," Jason realized. "Cute. All right, so you're trying to trace this ship back to where it came from, how's that going?"
Mathesar and Teb looked at each other. "That is an excellent idea," Teb said, nodding.
Mathesar turned back awkwardly. "Please, make yourselves comfortable." They scurried off.
Jason and his crew followed through the docking structure to the ship, pausing to take in the view. There it was: the NSEA Protector II. Or possibly III. Jason's heart lifted. And he'd been feeling pretty good to begin with. Sure, he remembered the danger they'd been in last time, and how he'd had to risk destroying the universe, and he didn't want anywhere near that again, but still, hadn't it all been worth it? He rubbernecked like a tourist as they entered the ship itself, surprised again by how it looked with all four walls.
"Beautiful," he said, as they passed an extensive recreation bay that looked like an alien arboretum. It glowed with phosphorescent flowers. "Fred, what's it been like, living here?"
"Oh, it's great. The food's really good. Lots of options."
"And the whole, uh, family thing, how's that working out?"
Fred smiled. "The little tykes. Yeah. Dr. Sheeli says they're, um, healthy. We got them some appearance generators. They're growing more every day. Fred Junior is a bit, uh, you know," and he made a quick and odd gesture that had obviously been developed for something other than human arms. "The little dickens! 'Scuse me." He drifted off towards where Command Sergeant Laliari was wrestling what looked like a flock of small green sock monkeys.
Gwen appeared at his side. "Aw. What did Fred say? Is he still happy?"
"Seems to be. Although one of his kids is either, like, hyperactive, clumsy, flaming gay, or maybe levitating. I don't know."
Gwen teased, "Just because any mention of children makes your eyes glaze over..."
"Now wait a minute," Jason said. "You're making some assumptions. I like kids just fine. I love 'em. If you want them, let's go for it."
She was startled. "I... I... already?" They'd skipped several pages in the script, and she wasn't prepared. "I can't film a major new television series with a baby."
"Laliari's going to."
"Yeah, but she gave birth on set and everyone thought she was just coughing. This is a little different, Jason. My jumpsuit is my role, I can't get pregnant. And in case you haven't noticed, I'm not as young as the competition."
He turned to face her, the others parting to go around them.
"There's no competition. You're the one and only Tawny Madison. Is that really what this is about? You're still not sure, are you? You're not sure you can trust me."
"Well, commitment is... it's never been your strong suit."
He took her hands. "Hey, I can commit. I've put my life into this role, and you know it. But this, us, we just weren't ready before. Come on, sure, I flirt a little, but when's the last time I so much as touched a groupie?"
"This morning. The bimbo in the red wig. At the con."
"That was a perfectly legitimate autograph signing," Jason protested. "Fine. But when's the last time I danced with one of those girls, or kissed one, even for a photo, or copped a feel, or hooked up backstage in between speeches, or took several of them home in a taxi, or..."
She cut in, "Okay, honey? You're ruining it."
"Gwen, I love you. I always have. I'm not as young or as athletic as I used to be, but as long as you want me, I'm yours."
"Oh, Jason," she said, admitting it with a shake of her head. "I've always wanted you."
They fell into each other's arms as the ship pulled out into space.
Mathesar had insisted that the humans take over their stations again, once they were close to their goal. Jason had argued for politeness' sake, but damn, he loved that command chair.
"We were able to trace their ship's emissions to this quadrant, and we believe we've fixed an approximate location for their first entry, but strangely, we can't trace it back further than that. There's no sign of..."
Teb's excited speech continued, but nobody was listening. Nobody human, anyway. Jason, Gwen, Alex, Tommy, and Guy were all staring at the bright glowing oval on the viewscreen. It had a shimmery outer layer and a throbbing dark center, and its colors ranged from electric-spark blue to eye-bending indigo.
"That's impressive," Fred said, from the generator room.
Gwen gasped, "What is it?"
Guy looked sideways at her. "You people really never watched the show."
Alexander said, "I caught a few episodes, and I'm guessing it's a great big bloody hole in space and time."
"Bingo," said Guy.
"Computer, identify the phenomenon in quadrant, uh... the big glowing thing in front of us," Gwen said.
The computer voice said, "Phenomenon is an impacted time knot, breaching the fabric of reality. No previous examples exist in data banks. Consequences are unknown."
Gwen traded shrugs with Guy and Alex, then noticed that all the Thermians were still staring expectantly at her.
"Oh! It's an impacted time knot, breaching the fabric of reality. We don't have any other information." The Thermians made interested noises and started chattering amongst themselves. The techs in the generator room went into a huddle.
"Hey, I think I see something," Tommy said. "There's a planet on the other side. You see it there?"
Jason pulled himself together. "Okay, uh, can we get some readings?"
Guy stepped forward, patting the air with his hands. "Yeah, now, I've done some analyses on this, and there's a thirty percent chance we're dealing with either Nazis, gangsters, or cavemen."
Jason stared. Alex said dryly, "What about hippies?"
Guy made a finger gun and click-clicked at him. "Good point!"
"But it doesn't make sense," Tommy said, taking another look at the big glowing time knot. "The ship, all this technology, they built it based it on our show, right? So how did that get there?"
"Hmm," Alex said, seeing his point. "Natural phenomena shouldn't look like our special effects. That's reversed."
"Maybe," Jason said, "this isn't natural." He hadn't actually known what he meant by that, but it sounded so good, he decided to go out on it. "Everybody, meet me in the strategy room in five." It was time to blow out of here, and recommend to Mathesar that his people do the same. He was going to need some advice on putting that tactfully, though.
Fred waved from the monitor screen. "Wait! Guys!" His cheerful assistants smiled and nodded, looking strained but intent. "We've got an idea."
The ship was beginning to rock. Jason hit the intercom again. "How's it going down there, Tech Sergeant?"
"Yeah, uh... I think..."
Gwen braced herself at her station, and Tommy stared grimly ahead, keeping the lines on his screen centered over the other lines on his screen.
"We're awfully close to that thing now. You're sure you can do this?"
"If we reverse... the quantum flux... at the right time, it should shut down the time knot's impact field, yeah."
The ship shook harder; Tommy was starting to sweat. "And?" Jason prompted.
"Yeah, um... any minute now..." The command deck filled with white-blue light. The Protector III vibrated violently and then stopped, in a smooth silence made more terrifying by the lights whipping by and the onrushing indigo darkness. "No, that wasn't it."
"What do you mean, that wasn't it?"
"Wasn't the right time. We're, uh, we're stuck."
"We're stuck," Guy repeated. "We're falling!"
"There's a planet, like Tommy said," Gwen pointed out, still bracing her legs although the ship had stopped convulsing. Maybe. It always happened more than once, when you were off your guard. "And stars. We're on the other side of that thing! Computer, where are we?"
"On the other side of the impacted time knot," the computer voice said. "Specific location unknown." Gwen sighed.
"Tommy? Level us out."
"Yes, Commander." Tommy did his best. The computers did a lot of the work, he just had to keep the ship from going into a tailspin and they'd end up in orbit.
"Uh, Commander?" That was Guy. Jason ignored him, trying to see over Tommy's shoulder.
"Jason? Jason!" That was Gwen. "I'm getting a message. It's a transmission. On zeta frequency."
"It's probably from the blip," Guy said shakily.
"The blip? What blip? Play the message, Lieutenant." Gwen frowned at him for a second, and Jason realized he'd used her role title instead of her name. Come on, old habit. It wasn't like he didn't know the difference.
"...blast you to component atoms. Repeat: this is Commander Taggart of the ISEA. Disarm your resonance cannons and surrender at once." The voice filled the command deck: powerful, commanding, arrogant... kind of sexy.
"Jason?" Gwen said in disbelief.
"Commander?" Mathesar asked uncertainly.
"The hell?" Tommy said.
Guy dropped his forehead to the counter. "We're screwed."
The crew of the ISEA Punisher filled the command deck. They were wearing a lot of leather and showing more exposed backs and arms than usual, but aside from that, the uniforms were similar. There was a Thermian who looked just like Teb, but mean; his jumpsuit had cutouts over the shoulders and chest. There was a nasty-looking version of Tommy, in over-the-knee boots and a shiny muscle shirt. Commander Peter Quincy Taggart had a ponytail and an eyepatch. He looked Jason over from head to foot, said "Watch him," and moved on to terrorize the few Thermians who had remained on the deck. Jason was torn between envy and thinking he was hamming it up.
Then he reached Gwen. "What's this? A gentler, softer version of my lovely lieutenant?"
She just snorted. Jason stiffened, frightened for the first time.
Taggart put an arm against the bulkhead behind her. "You could be very interesting to... toy with."
"Please," she said, rolling her eyes. "I've known you how long? I'm not afraid of you in character, either! You're not that good."
"Oh, Tawny," Taggart purred, as his crew quivered all over the bridge and made high terrified peeping noises. "I could change your mind." His face hardened. "About both of those." He reached to stroke her open collar.
Before anyone could do anything, Gwen caught him with a karate chop to the throat, twisted his thumb back, and stomped on his foot. He yelled and stumbled away. Jason found that he was straining in place, two of Taggart's guards holding him.
"OW! OW! OW! SHIT!" Taggart hopped around, getting his breath back. The Thermians vocalized uncertainly. "Okay... okay." He straightened up, running a hand over his hair, and fixed a grin on his face. "You're feisty. I like that."
She rolled her eyes again, but he had moved on. "And who's this young stud?" he said, spotting Guy on the other side of the bridge.
Gwen finally looked at Jason, who had been trying to signal her since the ISEA troops first started marching in. She was wide-eyed and annoyed. "Anything you want to tell me, Jason?" she said, indicating Taggart's swaggering approach to Guy.
"What, that?" He glanced over. Taggart was doing the hand-on-bulkhead thing again. Guy looked mesmerized. "It's not me. Look, he's just being evil."
"Care to explain that remark, Jason?" Alexander said significantly, from the midst of the four Evil Thermians surrounding him.
Jason only had two guards. Hey. "Come on, you know what I mean. It's a long tradition..."
"G-guy—Roc. Security Chief 'Roc' Ingersoll."
"Why don't I recognize you? Teb?" Taggart barked, looking up from Guy's nervous bambi eyes.
Evil Teb consulted a handheld device. "We had a Guy Ingersoll in the security department. He died last year on a mining planet during an attempt to acquire a replacement beryllium sphere."
"I knew it!" Guy said.
"Torn apart by carnivorous Gnee'mols. Reportedly, he screamed for hours." Evil Teb shuddered.
"All right, th-that's, you don't have ta...!" Guy said very quietly.
Jason, meanwhile, had edged close enough to Gwen to whisper to her: "Listen, don't mess with these guys, all right? I don't think they're like us."
"Well, duh," she said. "Even you were never that much of a jackass."
"No, I mean—this is a different universe or something, right? An alternate reality? They're using the names. And look at them. Laredo's built like a dump truck. Taggart's lost an eye. I think they're the real thing."
"You mean..." Her eyes went wide. "Oh, my God!"
"Enough interrogation for now," Commander Taggart announced, waving his crew into place behind him. "Secure the ship. We'll bring these imposters back to the brig and have Dr. Lazarus deal with them."
Deathly silence fell. Evil Teb turned white.
Taggart leaned against the wall of the surface pod, arms folded, smirking and looking dangerous. Even with the ponytail. Laredo piloted the surface pod confidently, keeping it smooth.
"Damn, so that's how you do it," Tommy admired. He tried copying the motions, but the broad cuffs made it difficult. They were secured in a line, the five of them, making it even less likely they'd get away. The Evil Thermians under Commander Taggart were definitely a bit more savvy about some things.
A few guards watched them from the back of the pod, although most had stayed to take over the Protector. Hopefully, Mathesar would give them a run for their money.
"You do it just fine," Jason said, automatically. Keep their spirits up.
"Yeah, but maybe he's better. Like, genetically. Laredo wasn't human, right?"
Tommy gave Alex a look. "I guess I'm the only one who read my character sheet. Just because I didn't have to wear three pounds of plastic..."
"Why didn't we see Mathesar?" Jason wondered suddenly.
Tommy forgot his annoyance. "Yeah, and where's Fred?" Gwen kicked him. "Huh? Right. Chen." He raised his voice. "Hey, Taggart. Where's Tech Sergeant Chen?"
Commander Taggart pulled his gun and studied them. "Chen was a Thermian sympathizer. He was causing trouble with that female of his, so I sent him to the Excruiator Chamber. Hasn't been the same since."
Jason winced. "And Mathesar?"
"He had to go," Taggart said, making a throat-cutting gesture. "He wasn't ready for the new era. Can you believe he tried to take back command?"
Laredo reported, "We're here, Commander."
"Signal to open the docking pod. I said open the docking pod. Get me gamma frequency. Lt. Madison, why isn't the docking pod opening?"
A screen appeared, showing the face of Tawny Madison—Gwen, if she had frowned more than she smiled. She seemed to be wearing something like a metal bikini top with sleeves. "Oh, lover," Tawny said with false sympathy. "Maybe a gentler, softer version of me would have let you back in."
Taggart slammed his fist on the counter. "Damn it! She has spies everywhere!" Tawny laughed. He pushed more controls. "Get me the medical quarters." Another screen rose up to the right, which cleared to show a somewhat disheveled Dr. Lazarus.
"By Grabthar's hammer, who dares disturb my hour of meditation?" He looked over his shoulder and motioned. "You. Get out." A half-dressed Thermian could be seen briefly fleeing the room, appearance generator flickering.
"The lieutenant here thinks she's taking control of the ship."
"I see. In that case," Dr. Lazarus said, with truly sinister smoothness, "Tawny, I hope you'll remember that we have always been good friends." He moved out sight, then returned. "The door's locked," he gritted, then adopted a face of sarcastic inquiry. "Why?"
"Oh, I guess you thought I wouldn't notice!" she snapped. "You deliberately designed these uniforms to make me look thick-waisted!"
Dr. Lazarus laughed meanly. "An unfortunate side effect, my dear, but no," he said. "That was aimed at... someone else."
Taggart stiffened. "I am not getting paunchy!"
"Tell it to your clothing replicator, Commander."
"I knew you'd betray me, old friend," Taggart said, folding his arms. "So I had the food synthesizers reprogrammed to only serve you that Kep-mok bloodtick soup you love so much. And I had a word with Quellek to make sure you only eat your native foods: you'll find he's very concerned about your health. Ha ha ha!"
Dr. Lazarus made fists of rage. "Damn you, Jason!"
The officers all twitched, then Taggart dismissed Dr. Lazarus from view and pushed another button. "Attention, all Punisher crew. This is your commander... it's not transmitting! Did you—" Tawny smiled and mimed not being able to hear him. "Bitch! She cut my mike again!" She wiggled her fingers goodbye and the screen vanished.
"Fire at will, Commander?" Laredo asked hopefully.
"No, no. What she doesn't know is I've got command overrides of the command overrides. At least, I think so. Lahnk showed me how this works, before I sent him to be excruciated. Look, hold down that button and that one while I hold down these, and..."
Gwen had been trying to get Jason's attention. She hissed: "Jason! Jason! Did you hear him? He said Jason! That means..."
Guy jumped in his seat and whispered, "You were wrong! They're like us! They're actors!"
"Evil actors," Tommy groaned.
Alexander didn't say anything.
He had hardly heard a word after "Quellek."
Taggart—no, Jason Nesmith, but evil—led them out into the docking bay, calling one of the waiting crowd of solemn, S&M-clad Thermians over to stand by him and flinging an intimidating arm around his shoulders. "Listen, I've got a special assignment for you," Evil Jason said to the earnest-faced young officer. "We've got some very special prisoners here, and I want them kept out of sight, so the crew don't get confused. You got it? Oh, and make sure the guys you take aren't... your favorites. We'll need to make sure they don't tell any tales."
"I... I understand, sir."
"Now you'll excuse me, I've got a coup to put down. Oh, my lovely lieutenant, such fire in her eyes." Evil Jason swept out of the chamber, a chuckling Evil Tommy at his side and his guards at his heels.
The earnest, young, evil Thermian in charge stepped forward to address the prisoners. "You were taken from an identical craft, and you strongly resemble the crew of the Punisher. This is—very interesting," he said, in his light voice. "And yet you appear different; gentler. In your eyes in particular, Dr. Lazarus, I see a kindness that belies the harsh code of the Mak'tar."
"Quellek," Alexander said. "Quellek." His voice was choked.
Evil Quellek tipped his head. "Are these—tears?" He appeared concerned. "Have I made you unhappy?"
"No, no... I'm very happy... Dammit!" Alexander turned away, unable to wipe his eyes.
Gwen gasped. "Oh, Alex," she said sentimentally. "Was it him?"
"Shut up, please," he begged in an undertone.
Evil Quellek stared at them, his smooth brow furrowed.
"Listen," Jason said, not sure it was true, but determined to give his best shot: "I can explain everything."
"Take these prisoners to the security quarters," Evil Quellek said. "Doctor, I would like to speak with you. Alone."
Alexander had gotten himself under control by the time he had finished his story. It hadn't taken long; Evil Quellek had started nodding at "great big bloody hole in time and space."
"We learned of the existence of such things from the historical documents," he said. "Our scientists have been studying their operation. But I had not dreamed that other universes might be... better."
"Yes, well, ours isn't exactly a stroll in the park either," Alexander muttered. He rubbed his wrists, and Evil Quellek moved at once, running a metal object down the length of the cuffs. They fell off. Evil Quellek remained where he was, kneeling at Alexander's side. Looking into his eyes, Alexander said, slowly, "But, in all honesty, Quellek, do you want all this? The torture... the prisoners... that raving egomaniac as your commander?"
"No, Doctor," Evil Quellek said. "I turned to your Mak'tar philosophies because they offered some discipline, above the selfishness and anarchy of the peoples around us. My dream has always been to peacefully study the historical documents, or even..." he gazed up, peaked face still without a trace of a smile. "Even to help make more."
Damn the resonance cannons, and the midlife crisis, Alex thought wildly. Full speed ahead. He seized Quellek's shoulders. "Come with me," he said. "Come back with us. I can get you a job." Maybe not a speaking part, he reflected, but they could discuss that later.
"Leave my position—my people—my world?" Quellek mused. "And yet, sir, I have feelings for you that I never experienced with Dr. Lazarus. I was drawn to him, of course..."
Alexander nodded. Of course.
"He is very attractive and compelling, but he is terrible to his lovers." Alexander shook his head in mild disapproval. "He has broken the hearts of many of our young males and females. He is cruel, and capricious. His perversions are legendary..."
Alexander stopped preening. "Yes, yes, that's enough. You've made your point."
"I had hoped he would be like a father to me," the Thermian said.
"I... I don't want to be your father," Alexander admitted. "Quellek."
Quellek reached up and wonderingly touched his cheek. Alexander felt the contact: smooth, warm, controlled. He reached in turn to touch what looked like the base of Quellek's neck, and felt the shifting of many muscles, slim strength rearranging. His eyes widened involuntarily.
"My form. I am not as I appear," Quellek said wistfully. Alex remembered suddenly that he had left out an important part of the story. The part Jason had repeatedly failed to get through Mathesar's head. No wonder it had seemed too easy.
"Neither am I," he confessed. "There's something I must explain. No, it will be hard to believe, so—just watch." He reached up and, scraping with his fingernails, began to peel up the bottom of his side prosthetic.
Quellek slowly turned pale green, let out a horrifyingly high-pitched shriek, and fainted dead away.
"So that's the plan," Jason said, glossing over the part where it wasn't a plan so much as a strategy. "Guy, Tommy, you take some of Quellek's guys and try to get in touch with Laliari in the generator room. Don't risk talking to Evil Fred unless you have to. Gwen, Alex, you're with me. Quellek, you know what to do."
"Just—a moment," Alexander said. "Quellek will help us on one condition."
"Doctor La—Alexander," Quellek said, correcting himself firmly. "I want to help. I—"
"Let me," Alexander said, cutting him off. "This is one area where my world is just as ruthless: contract negotiation." He glared at Jason, who shrugged and held up his hands.
"He wants to be on the show? No problem. We'll work it out. Now, is everyone clear? All right. Stay focused, keep moving, and don't forget: Never give up—never surrender!"
"Stop saying that!" Gwen, Tommy, and Alexander groaned in unison.
"But it's good advice," Jason protested. Guy nodded rapidly and Quellek did a Mak'tar salute of agreement.
Alexander sighed and lifted his arm as well, feeling giddy. Pre-performance nerves.
Well, and infatuation. After Quellek had recovered from his faint, to find Alexander holding him, begging him to wake, they'd taken a few minutes for themselves. A few... tender minutes.
"Brel'tann," Quellek murmured to him now. "May Ipthar watch over you."
"You're sure you can do this," Alexander said roughly, dropping the salute.
"I am more concerned for your safety, sir. As you do not truly have the Mak'tar disciplines of strength, how will you be a match for Dr. Lazarus?"
Jason frowned. "I thought you, uh..."
Alexander nodded, not really surprised. "I'll explain it to him again on the way."
Quellek released his erstwhile mentor from the medical quarters, leading him off in the direction of the command deck as Evil Alex roared a torrent of bad-tempered abuse. As soon as they were around the corner, Alexander, Jason, and Gwen snuck in to ransack Dr. Lazarus' private sleeping area for supplies. Some minutes later, forehead safely fastened down, Alexander had to be dragged out again. He had become fascinated by his counterpart's awards shelf.
"But, Jason! He's got two Oliviers and a Tony!"
"Come on, man, what is wrong with you?"
"Well, obviously he didn't let that backstabbing little bitch Jeremy Linfield chase him out of Stratford."
"He probably did the stabbing. How is that better? Now come on!" Jason and Gwen started dragging again.
"Crew of the Punisher, you are about to recognize your new commander," Evil Alex announced, broadcasting to the entire ship.
"Never!" Evil Jason shouted, straining against his guards. Evil Gwen and Evil Tommy shrugged at each other resignedly. The place was packed with Thermians, playing backup for different teams.
"Now," Jason ordered.
Alexander called out, "Quellek, now!" and tossed him the secret weapon they had acquired from the medical quarters. He flung himself back against the wall as heads turned and a wall of guns were raised. Grimly, Quellek uncapped the canister of makeup remover and dumped it on Evil Alex's head.
"What the hell?" he spluttered, turning.
Quellek gave the signal for his own followers to close their eyes, then grabbed at Dr. Lazarus-Alexander's face, found a lower edge with his sensitive tentacle-pads, and pulled up in ten places at once.
"Impressive rescue, Mathesar. Very good timing."
Mathesar shrugged and extended a stiff arm. "Youu hardly needed our help! You had already seized control of the other ship!"
Jason smiled modestly. "Yeah, after all the Thermians but Quellek's guys passed out, it was easy. We had the drop on the evil us-es, and Fred and Laliari's team took over the generator. But I'm still glad you turned up when you did. I wasn't too happy about depending on the other Fred's emotional stability, you know? That guy was weeeeird. So, uh, fill me in on what happened back here."
"After we regained control of the ship, we had a talk with the Thermians from the other universe. They were... odd. But we had much in common," Mathesar said. "Their scientists had been attempting to create a time knot, as in the historical documents, but it, hmm, grew beyond their control. They taught us how to shut it down before more ships from different realities could come through, asking only that we secretly transport them to the planet below their ship so that they would not be punished. We, believe they can be trusted. The gap is closed now, so our people are once more safe."
Jason nodded, tuning back in for the last sentence or two. "And what part of that did you need us for," he asked encouragingly.
Mathesar struggled with the question, then relaxed with a faint but growing smile. His eyes full of liquid alien affection, he said, "It was good to see you again, Commander."
Jason put a hand on his shoulder, staggering slightly when Mathesar returned the gesture with a flop. "It was good to see you again too... Commander." He was pretty sure that wasn't exactly a hand squeezing his shoulder. Better not to think about it. "Speaking of which... you don't mind if we take Quellek with us?"
"Aaaah." Mathesar let out a sigh, studying Evil Quellek as he stood, looking shy and flattered, mobbed by happily shrieking and squeaking non-evil Thermians. "We are very glad to see him again too. But he wishes to go with Dr. Alexander." Quellek had been holding Alex's hand earlier, something Jason had never thought he'd see. "He... he..." Mathesar began to look distressed. "He loooves himm." The final yodel sounded downright painful.
"It's all right, Mathesar!" Jason tried to reassure him. "You don't... do you not have... people who like people of the same, you know, gender?"
Mathesar let out a huge sigh of relief. "Then it is true," he said. "On Thermia, all such attractions were common, but we never saw this behavior in the historical documents. We grew worried that it was part of our cultural weakness, that your people would not, hmm, approve. Some argued that it was merely an oversight, that we had not found the relevant documents, but many of us believed it was a breach of vital protocol and tried to suppress our natural impulses in fear and shame!"
"Oh, no, no, you shouldn't do that," Jason said, embarrassed. Really embarrassed. "About the documents, look, it's complicated. It's a political thing. But just because you don't see something on the show doesn't mean it isn't right. We never showed naked people, either, but we're all naked underneath, right? And you should all just, just love each other, no matter what." He noticed two attractive female Thermians pausing their work to listen attentively, one seated, one standing. He leered a little bit. "Especially if it's you two."
"Quit it," Gwen said patiently, from behind him. He pulled her around to join them.
"As long as you'll have me, remember?" He swept her down into a kiss as Mathesar beamed happily.
Fred walked by with an arm around Alexander's shoulders. "Yeah, listen. There's some stuff you'll want to know, yeah." He nodded to himself a few times. "So. Oh. Here's a thing about tentacles..."
Alexander's eyebrows went up as he listened. He was definitely intrigued.
Stumbling in the other direction, Tommy narrowly avoided Guy, who was taking a last starry-eyed look around the deck. "Arrrgh! Somebody? Fred? Get this thing off me!" Tommy kept pulling at his passenger, Fred Junior, who was clinging to his back at more points than were visible.
Laliari swept the baby away with an apologetic tilted smile and wrapped him around her neck absently, while ululating upwards. "Neliri, Tim, come down now. You will enjoy Earth! We must finish memorizing all the updates to the scientific databanks. There will not be time to retune your appearance generators! Come down! Come down!"
What looked like two human babies with extra limbs clung to the ceiling over their heads.
"You guys are really going to have to do something about that immigration thing," Tommy observed.
EARTH HISTORICAL DOCUMENT #13ζ4ς682ξ4887
"No melancholy Dane here. The beloved Galaxy Quest actor celebrated a historic occasion with a large group of friends and co-stars today, as he and his partner of thirty years, Quellek of the Thermian people of the Klatu Nebula, tied the knot in the first legally recognized gay-alien marriage."
"Thirty years is a long time to wait," the male anchor said.
"It certainly is." Over brief shots of Jason Nesmith, Gwen DeMarco, Fred Kwan, Laliari, Mathesar, Brandon Wheeger, and a number of other aging Questorians and Thermians alternately hugging Alexander Dane and Quellek and spraying them with something blue, the female anchor continued, "A visibly emotional Sir Alexander Dane had this advice for the cheering crowd: 'Never give up... never surrender.'"
She smiled and looked up. "And that's the news for tonight."
END HISTORICAL DOCUMENT